I was a midlife surprise for my dear parents, two of the most ethical and conscientious people you could ever find. Having rejected the religious training of their youth, they joined the Congregational Church long enough before I was born to have me baptized there. This holy sacrament tethered me to my Lord and Savior in ways wondrous and glorious. I absolutely believe this is why I have always known every single time I failed God and my parents with my willful misbehavior.
After years of successful contraception, I was conceived coincidentally – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – when my maternal grandfather died quite soon after a shocking diagnosis of advanced stage leukemia. Oops! When I arrived within hours of the 1956 Republican convention adjournment, my first but not last political act, my parents thought their family was plenty complete already with 16-year-old Richard, 10-year-old Donna and 8-year-old Bob. My grandmother, who continued to live with my family after Grandpa’s death, was determined to spoil me useless and she was joined in that pursuit by my mother and doting sister. Donna was a profound influence on my life as an example to follow and sometimes to reject. She instilled in me my lifelong enthusiasm for music, dance and merriment.
I had an active, tomboyish childhood, suffering multiple concussions and life-threatening accidents. The worst was at age 3 when my brothers were playing baseball in our Van Nuys backyard and Richard, rendered deaf at birth by a harsh forceps delivery, hit me when I ran behind him as he was swinging at one of Bob’s pitches. Poor Richard was traumatized, thinking he had killed me. Richard and I have always been close and he lives with me and my son, Chris. The first maternal feelings I ever experienced were as a teenager overwhelmed by protectiveness of Richard and awareness of his vulnerability as a deaf man with learning disabilities. He can be a handful and is still teaching me patience and tolerance.
Donna always suffered from hormonal irregularities that made her extremely tall and slender until she gave birth to her first of two sons, when she put on excess weight she spent the rest of her life trying to shed. To shame her into dieting, her husband warned her in a misguidedly joking way that he was waiting for me to grow up, which prompted her to start informing me of my every flaw, physical and otherwise. At age 13, after childhood fluctuations between quiet introversion and obnoxious extroversion, this made me horribly self-conscious and socially shy for the next decade. I know Donna didn’t mean to inflict such damage and we remained the closest of sisters and friends. After her husband’s shocking murder, I helped Donna and my parents raise her young sons. I developed a genuine appreciation for boys that enriched all my relationships with men.
I adored my smart, cultured, gifted mother and came later to value my father’s natural intelligence, incredible work ethic, and admirable moral code. I thank God every day for such amazing parents. From my strong, stubborn mother, I inherited a passion for food, reading, politics, and knowledge in general. From my father, I learned humility, honor and humor in abundance. They both instilled in me convictions of steel, which kept me safe and self-respecting as I grew more independent from their cozy shelter. What unique and unforgettable characters they both were.
When I finally shed my awkward adolescence and the selfish childhood patterns set by my grandmother, mother and sister, I became a reformed do-gooder, committed to helping others and making them happy. Fresh out of college, I wanted to have a baby in the worst way – so I married one. I had never been in love and sadly wasn’t with my first husband. He was my first big altruistic project, a man-child broken by abuse suffered at the fists of an angry alcoholic father. When my beloved Chris was born, I wanted a better life for him than his dad could provide. After one disappointment too many, I took my 6-month-old son and moved back with my parents until he started Kindergarten. Those early years with Chris before I returned to work full-time were the absolute happiest of my life.
My intense mother love for Chris placed him firmly at the center of my universe, which was finally in balance. Our bond has always been unbreakable and unshakeable – and a threat to any men in my life. When Chris was five, I fell in sublime storybook love for the first and only time in my life. He was the first man who didn’t want to share me with Chris, which led to a premature breakup while we were still deeply mired in the potent throes of attraction and longing. The romantic spell endured for another decade until I met the man who became my last husband.
My second marriage was the biggest risk I have ever taken and I have never been one to gamble. He was much younger, different from me in every visible way, but we clicked quite unexpectedly. I remember clearly the precise point-of-no-return moment when I decided to proceed, accepting that this handsome young man full of remarkable potential would likely outgrow and discard me. In the most momentous act of blind mortal faith outside of my God love, I committed myself whole-heartedly to my husband and our life together.
I have known great love and great disappointment. My relationship with my son is the joy of my life and he honors me immeasurably. My second marriage tested me and I gave everything to make it the exceptional success it seemed to be for 9 years. We were the envy and inspiration of everyone who knew us. He was the only man I ever trusted completely apart from my dear father and my Savior. He stood by me with near perfect loving support when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, had disfiguring surgery and began the first of many treatment regimens that have brought me to this special day. His constant devotion finally stripped away my fears of his inevitable abandonment.
When I began my cancer adventure with all of its unexpected blessings and detours, I asked God to please let me live until my 50th birthday to see my son reach adulthood. That was five years and two additional cancer recurrences ago. I have seen my clever, handsome son fall in love and develop his God given talents. I watched my Christian husband, who began studying for the ministry after I received a miraculous remission in 2007, change into a wicked stranger who tried to convince me to stop chemotherapy and die for his financial convenience two years later. Aside from not getting cancer, I honestly don’t know what I could have done to prevent the slow motion train wreck he made of my family’s life. God granted me the gift of acceptance, which has made my life easier and more deeply contented in countless ways. I recognize that I may never fully understand what happened to my husband, but I have long since moved on. If you want the gory details, you can read more here and here.
I have enjoyed a fabulously full and varied life, which is not defined by any single chapter in my story. Friends encourage me often to write my autobiography and I have several drafts of a fictionalized version that I never seem to finish. There are too many strange and unlikely events and people to fit them all into one book. Since childhood, I have experienced prophetic visions and dreams. On the day my father died, an anonymous woman followed me around a supermarket before handing me the Bible tract from Psalm 23: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." I have assorted accomplishments that I keep in perspective, but the greatest of these is my faith.
I can state without ego that I was an excellent wife and mother. I have loved and been loved as every human desires. Until my second marriage in 2000 and diagnosis of cancer in 2003, I used to catalog my daily regrets at bedtime. Until I reached middle age and lost both of my parents, I deferred gratification of my personal happiness because of my innate sense of unworthiness. Cancer forced me to stake my faith in God first and foremost, bringing me peace and joy and hope that sustained me through what could have been my wilderness years.
Since December 2008, I have survived through five chemotherapy regimens, all of which worked for a substantial period of time before losing effectiveness as they all do. The current drug was approved by the FDA less than a year ago and is derived from sea sponges. I have been taking Curcumin supplements since 2006, which I know have extended my life and allowed me to live with cancer in my liver for the past three years. I have lost old and new friends to cancer and I don’t know why they were not as blessed. Clearly, God is not quite done with me here yet.
Today I celebrate my 55th birthday and a lifetime of cherished memories. I love my life, my family, my friends, my job, and above all He who gave everything to me and who waits for me with a perfect new body and a perfect new life. But I’m still here, so we are going out to party – but not anywhere that offers a senior discount.
Look at me – I made it!